Piazza Santa Maria Novella Florence

Piazza Santa Maria Novella is one of the most important squares in Florence. It is located between the central station, which is also called Santa Maria Novella, and the Piazza del Duomo. Its principal attractions are the Santa Maria Novella Basilica itself and the San Paolo Hospital. The two obelisks used to be the end points of the Palio dei Cocchi.

Piazza Santa Maria Novella Florence


Piazza Santa Maria Novella Florence
Piazza Santa Maria Novella

Piazza Santa Maria Novella has been enlarged several times in the course of history. The reason for this was that more and more believers came to pray on the square.

It was built in 1287. The work was carried out by order of the city itself. In order to complete the square, several existing houses had to be demolished. Construction was completed in 1325.

On the west side of the square there are a number of palaces built in the 16th and 17th century. The east side does not form a straight line and is the result of renovations in the 19th century.


Santa Maria Novella Basilica Florence (facade)
Santa Maria Novella Basilica

The Santa Maria Novella Church is on the north side of the square. The magnificent façade was completed in 1470 by Leon Battista Alberti. He did use an already existing construction from the 14th century. The Santa Maria Novella Museum is located next to the church itself.

On the other side of the church is the San Paolo Hospital, founded in the 12th century. This building is characterized by the beautiful loggia. At first the sick were cared for here, but from 1592 the lake was a rest home for recovering patients. In 1780, Leopold of Lorraine dissolved all religious institutions and converted it into a school. Today it is the seat of the Alinari Museum of Photography.

The Pitti-Broccardi Palace was the residence of the Pitti family before they built the famous Palazzo Pitti.

The tabernacle on the corner of the Via della Scala contains a fresco depicting the “Madonna with Child and Saints”. The original was painted by Francesco d’Antonio, while the current fresco is a copy.

Piazza Santa Maria Novella Obelisks

Obelisk, Piazza Santa Maria Novella, Florence
One of the obelisks in Piazza Santa Maria Novella

The two marble obelisks in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella replaced earlier wooden versions. The present obelisks, made by Bartolomeo Ammanati, were placed in the square in 1608. The occasion was the wedding of Cosimo II and Margherita of Austria. The bronze turtles supporting the obelisks were probably sculpted by Giambologna. The original pedestals were first replaced toward the end of the 18th century, and again in the 1960s. The irises crowning the monuments were added in the 19th century.


Palio dei Cocchi

From the Middle Ages onwards, Piazza Santa Maria Novella was used for festivals and other events. The most important of these is a chariot race called the Palio dei Cocchi.

The original wooden obelisks were placed in the square in 1563, to serve as sort of finish lines for the Palio dei Cocchi. This race had been initiated by Cosimo I. The wooden carriages, each pulled by two horses, had to run three times around the obelisks. The carriages represented four districts. They each had a different color (red, white, blue or green). The winner received a silk banner. The Palio dei Cocchi was held on the feast day of John the Baptist (June 23rd), the day before the final of the famous Calcio Storico Fiorentino. In the mid-19th century a tram line was laid through the square and the festival was discontinued.

Piazza Santa Maria Novella, Florence

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